fitness

Catherine tries glassblowing, gets dexterity workout

I think glassblowing is kind of like scuba diving: when you think about doing it, you either say to yourself, “absolutely no way!” or “Oooh! Sign me up!”

I admit that my interest in visiting a hot shop (which is both what glass blowing workshops are called and well describes what they are) was rekindled by reality show Blown Away (which is Canadian-produced). It’s the usual setup: a spunky group of glass artists create art, squabble amongst themselves, and compete for prize money and glory.

When my local glass school (NOCA glass school) advertised introductory 4-hour workshops, I convinced my friends Janet and Steph to join me. Among the many things I was wondering about glass blowing: how physically strenuous is it? What kind of workout does glassblowing provide? What kind of workout does glassblowing require in order to do it?

Turns out, glasswork requires a lot of physical skills:

  • stamina
  • fine motor skills
  • concentration while doing physical tasks
  • dexterity (in ways big and small)
  • development of muscle memory for repetitive actions
  • strength, too, but we didn’t work with heavy instruments or materials

It’s important to develop skills to be able to do physical tasks in the same way without thinking. It makes our work and workouts more efficient and effective and less taxing on us. In the context of glass blowing, it also makes it safe. the furnace heats the glass to 2000 degrees F (1093 C). Just holding the punty (the metal rod you use for manipulating the hot glass) near the furnace is hard– i can’t convey how hot it is. Ovens? Not even close.

I’ve studied various types of dance all my life, so I thought, this will be easy. The routines for moving around the shop are like dances. Indeed they are. But they do take time to learn. And I’ve never danced with a red-hot-glob of glass before!

Alex the instructor and me, gathering hot glass from the furnace.
Alex the instructor and me, gathering hot glass from the furnace.
Me doing the sit-on-bench safety dance. Right hand is up so i don't touch anything hot.
Me doing the sit-on-bench safety dance. Right hand is up so I don’t touch anything hot.

Once you’re actually seated on the work bench, you have tools to use to manipulate the glass. They actually use special scissors to cut hot glass! How cool is that!

Me, using a taglio (like a spatula) to flatten hot glass. Yes, it's red because it's red hot. Other cool tools are beside me,
Me, using a taglio (like a spatula) to flatten hot glass. Yes, it’s red because it’s red hot. Other cool tools are beside me,

Just being able to reheat the glass, sit down safely at the bench and pick up a tool to work the glass was really hard. You have to do all this efficiently and quickly; otherwise the glass will cool down and you have to repeat the process. Which i did, many times. The instructors reheated our glass for us while we sat at the benches, trying out the specialized (if medieval-looking) tools.

Eventually, with lots of help from Zahra, I ended up with something that looked like a glass heart!

Zahra on the left, and me, with a red-hot glass heart on the end of my punty. When it cools, it will be green.
Zahra on the left, and me, with a red-hot glass heart on the end of my punty. When it cools, it will be green.

Trying out a new activity reminded me how stimulating it is to try something completely new. What I didn’t expect was a reminder of how difficult but fun it is to confront a new set of physical rituals and movements. Being introduced to the dance of a new activity was really fun.

Will I become a glass blower? Probably not. But I am reminded of how fun it can be to try out something that requires me to think and move in completely new ways.

Readers, have you tried glass work? Have you tried anything completely new lately? I’d love to hear from you.

3 thoughts on “Catherine tries glassblowing, gets dexterity workout

  1. This sounds like fun! I had not heard of NOCA but just looked them up, maybe it would be a fun activity with my daughter on her spring break!

    On Sun, Feb 13, 2022 at 9:05 AM FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE wrote:

    > catherine w posted: ” I think glassblowing is kind of like scuba diving: > when you think about doing it, you either say to yourself, “absolutely no > way!” or “Oooh! Sign me up!” I admit that my interest in visiting a hot > shop (which is both what glass blowing workshops are ” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Liz– so glad you are signing up for one of these. It was super-interesting. Very difficult too, but totally fun. Will look forward to hearing all about it. Hope to see you soon!

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  2. I loved your comparison with SCUBA diving! Each year (pre-pandemic) I watched in fascination as glassblowers worked outside at a neighborhood festival. It is fascinating to watch something take shape. And SCUBA is an entry into a whole world that doesn’t even exist for most of us. For a modern context, snorkeling is like watching TV to SCUBA’s Virtual Reality – are you watching a world, or immersed in it?

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